Essays On War

Volodymyr Arenev. DAILY HABITS



The old laptop broke down. Even indirectly, the blame is being placed on the Russians this year. Despite everything, it held up well, enduring many trips, several books being written on it, and the entire last year. There were signs that problems were accumulating, but I ignored them, telling myself that I had more important things to do and that if something happened, I would have time to react.

Unfortunately, I was only able to save a portion of the files, but I consider myself lucky compared to others who lost everything under these conditions and had to start from scratch.

Now I have a new laptop, which is neither better nor worse than the old one, just an ordinary work tool. However, there is one issue: the „Delete“ and „ctrl“ keys are not in the positions where I’m used to finding them. Every time I need to move the cursor between words or paragraphs, I end up pressing where the corresponding arrow and „ctrl“ keys should be. Unfortunately, I miss the keys every time because they’re not in the usual places.

Of course, I’ll have to retrain myself to use this new keyboard. It’s just a matter of habit, and I know that daily practice will help me get used to it. Therefore, I try to use my new laptop every day, even if I can’t resist starting my morning with a news feed. Or rather, I try to ensure I don’t browse the news feed too late. After all, it’s impossible not to read the news in a country where battles with occupying forces are constantly being fought. Living in a country where once bright, lively cities filled with children’s laughter are now reduced to burnt ruins is not easy. It’s especially challenging when Russian missiles hit apartment buildings, causing harm to pensioners, teachers, sports coaches, and dentists alike.

War disrupts our daily life, but it also molds our new reality, which involves checking Facebook to ensure the safety of our loved ones and sending simple messages like „How are you?“ to those closest to us. Once the power is back, we immediately charge all our gadgets and power banks and start the washing machine. In the event of an air raid siren, if we haven’t gone to the shelter yet, we do something useful but mundane to pass the time.

This new normality is also subject to change. When the water supply is hit for the first time, you walk to the supermarket to get water. Then, after the explosions, you fill the bathtub and every available pot with water. As a result, you keep a supply of technical water at home and no longer react to news of possible water shortages.

The same goes for electricity. When power outages begin, you look for candles. But over time, you develop a new ritual: connecting a desk lamp to a battery, a large lamp on a tripod to a power bank. If it’s dark, you attach a special flashlight to your forehead. You don’t let terrorists steal the hours of your life that pass without electricity.


Interestingly, the foundations of our adaptability are purely biological. After all, the process of thinking is an extremely energy-intensive process. Not every species has the resources for it (and not every species needs such thinking from an evolutionary point of view). But even in representatives of homo sapiens, many processes of the body occur on a subconscious level, like breathing, blinking, heartbeat, and digestion. Similarly, I don’t think about which key to press right now. My brain does it automatically: it’s not telepathic writing, but something close enough to it so that I don’t get irritated when formulating faster than I can write. New challenges require new, non-automated reactions – conscious breathing, eating despite „not wanting to,“ and writing texts despite your head and heart being loaded with something completely different. And these challenges appear daily – news from the front lines and portraits of the deceased, the fate of those who had to leave their homes, the disgusting lies of Russian politicians, and the crimes of the Russian military. As civilians, we react emotionally because we cannot help but react. And also because it directly concerns us – how we define ourselves and self-identify. Once widespread on the internet, „Je suis Charlie“ takes on new meanings because the news from Irpin, Bucha, Dnipro, and other cities, towns, and villages in Ukraine, in a sense, really make us residents of those cities. We are shot, raped, denied the right to be ourselves, and not a part of the „great Russian world.“

It seems impossible to get used to such news. But eventually, the sharpness of pain and shock becomes something ordinary: it doesn’t disappear but slowly and unhurriedly destroys us. This, too, is biological. Stress has a destructive effect on the body, and to minimize the effects of its impact (i.e., to survive), some processes automatically slow down or stop. Safety mechanisms are activated to prevent „burnout.“

I know that in other countries, our news is taken to heart by everyone. But I understand that inevitably, it eventually becomes a background noise for those who don’t live in Ukraine now and have their concerns, who worry about the rise in fuel prices or Christmas discounts.

This news from Ukraine also involuntarily turns into a routine for someone there. And it’s terrifying because that way, tortures, murders, and rapes committed by the Russian military become the norm. Eventually, dry statistics grind human destinies, depersonalize them, and turn them into numbers. It takes considerable imagination and empathy to sympathize with the figures behind which unknown people stand.

Every single day increases these numbers, and it seems that the level of empathy decreases. It adds banality to tragedy.

Every day, Ukrainians resist the war: they fight on the front, support life in the rear, donate to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, weave nets, make trench candles, clear minefields, treat the wounded, try to restore peaceful life in the occupied territories…

And they are forced to speak a foreign language, stand in line for groceries, hide from the occupiers, and try to catch a signal to convey the news to their loved ones. They try to survive where the „great Russian world“ has temporarily taken hold.

This, too, is a new normal. A marathon must be run, counting on a long and difficult journey. To survive and win, we are building new habits. Or we try to reproduce old pre-war ones to regain hope and strength through a daily ritual.


Almost every evening, I take a walk to the nearest park. On March 1, 2022, it was hit by gunfire, but now you hardly notice the damage.

From a distance, it looks dark, especially when the whole block loses power and the streetlights go out. But as you walk along the path into the park, you notice plenty of light. You can even walk without turning on your flashlight.

In the evening, the park comes to life: dog owners stroll around, security guards patrol the area, and those who prefer to take shortcuts through the dark paths return from work.

But other visitors also come here. In December, closer to New Year’s, I noticed a beam of light from a flashlight. As I approached, I saw a three or four-year-old child making a snowman right on the path. Next to the child stood a young woman, illuminating him with her mobile phone.

It was obvious that they had been standing there for some time in the cold. But it was crucial for the child to finish making that snowman, perhaps the first one in his life. And that woman – was she his mother? An older sister? A distant relative? – was freezing and shining her light all that time. Even though she probably knew that the snowman wouldn’t last long, standing on a path in the park, where someone would eventually run into it.

Previously, I would have been 100% sure it was the mother: who else would have that much love and endurance? Now I know that it could have been anyone. We have enough love and endurance for all those who survived.

Sometimes it seems like fewer and fewer people will survive this war and we’ll have a surplus of love without any people to share it with.


When I completed my usual round and returned,  the snowman had vanished. Perhaps someone had overlooked it in the darkness.

Nevertheless, it lives on here, in this essay, which too will eventually fade away. But for the time being, it will remain a little longer, just like all of us with our simple, life-saving, and sometimes silly habits.

Kyiv, January 2023

Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan